Straight James/Gay James by James Franco is a chapbook of poems, though many of these read like notes left on napkins and goofy missives that would be in a diary, never to see the light of day. Initially, the collection seems to start off with an examination of isolation and being different in poems like “Dumbo” and “Mask,” exploring the struggle to fit into the boxes we see around us.
Dumbo Dumb is me, As a young elephant I was shy, From too much attention, So, speak I didn’t. A young animal: At age thirteen, life plunked Me down in junior high, Like Dumbo in the circus. As I grew, Isolation followed me And the only recourse Was to drink hard with the clowns. Pink elephants Paraded and sloshed Through my youth Until I became a sinister clown, With a smile painted So thick I looked mad-happy, always. And I never flew, I never flew.
Evoking a pop culture icon from childhood — Dumbo from Disney — readers will be drawn into the comparison, showing a poetic sophistication and a knowledge of how poetic devices can be used. As an actor and a director, the choice is not unexpected. In “Mask,” he dons a persona, one that earns him money, and it is this persona that he has a love-dislike relationship with. It is not that he dislikes the persona, but the fact that it is so loved by the media and even fans — those who pay him, providing him with the money he uses to make art. It is this art that he pushes through the envelop of preconceptions and those categories that he sought to fit into in the first poem of the collection.
I want to stop here for a moment. Anna pointed me to this article in The Washington Post, which asks if it is “possible to be fair if we simply, irrationally just don’t like” a certain actor? In my case, this is James Franco. I don’t dislike him per se, but I don’t really like him either. Perhaps I don’t understand his art or his humor, but for a poetry reviewer, it’s hard to set that aside when his poetry is another form of art.
With that being said, a lot of this collection is inconsistent, reads like nearly stream-of-consciousness scribbling, and in some cases, it is the ravings of a drugged out person (or so it seems). He’s trying to be avant-garde, at least that’s what it seems like. Some of this is even merely backstage commentary.
The title poem, “Straight James/Gay James,” is an exercise in the ridiculous, in which his sexuality is not really explored, but skirted, and his main focus seems to be how much he loves himself. Straight James/Gay James by James Franco is an oddity that might have needed more editing and/or focus.
About the Author:
James Franco is an American actor, film director, screenwriter, film producer, author, and painter. He began acting during the late 1990s, appearing on the short-lived television series Freaks and Geeks and starring in several teen films. In 2001 he played the title role in Mark Rydell’s television biographical film James Dean, which earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film.